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When The Walking Dead ended the first half of its third season last year, brothers Daryl and Merle were about to go head-to-head and entertain the residents of Woodbury after Rick and company crashed the community to rescue Glenn and Maggie, leaving the Governor without an eye — and really pissed off.
When the final eight episodes of season three pick up Sunday on AMC, no time will have passed. The action will pick up right where things left off, with the Dixon brothers going head-to-head, the Governor still pissed, Andrea fully aware of what kind of man the leader of Woodbury really is and Rick still a mess after Lori’s death.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Glen Mazzara — who will continue to oversee the back-half of the season as showrunner before parting ways with the drama for season four — to preview what’s ahead when the drama based on the comics by Robert Kirkman returns. Will Rick continue to see (and hear) the dearly departed? How will he respond to seeing Tyreese and Michonne back at the prison? What will the war with the Governor look like? Plus, Mazzara opens up about what’s next for him. (Here’s a hint: Don’t expect zombies.)
The Hollywood Reporter: There was so much bloodshed in the first half of the season. How big of a body-count among the regular players might we expect in the back half?
Glen Mazzara: The show is a horror show, and there are always going to be deaths and near-misses and insane situations. That surprising storytelling is going to continue in the back half of the season. Those character deaths are definitely part of the fabric of the show.
THR: Will the pace of the back half of the season be as breakneck as it was during the first eight episodes of the season?
Mazzara: I think so. The pacing of the storytelling is something we’ve worked out on the show, and fans have responded to it. That’s the way I feel comfortable telling stories, that’s how The Walking Dead story needs to be told. That being said, we don’t necessarily introduce as many new elements. Most of the characters have been introduced, and the stage has been set for Rick (Andrew Lincoln), the Governor (David Morrissey), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Woodbury and the prison, and now it’s a matter of pushing into the character dynamics in surprising ways and seeing the pressure they’re under and the choices they make. There’s a lot of character drama to be had, but I see the back half of the season delving into the character motivations.
THR: You said “most of the characters” had been introduced. Might we see new or familiar faces popping up in the final eight episodes of the season? Morgan is still out there, and you mentioned at the beginning of the season that you could see bringing in comic villain Negan. Could either show up now?
Mazzara: We have a few cards up our sleeves. I don’t want to give anything away, but fans will be surprised at what’s in store. I will say that this season is about the Governor, and we have a lot of story to tell with him.
THR: We’ve seen in the promos that Hershel demands Rick step up to the “Ricktatorship,” and Carl suggest his father not be the leader anymore. How will we see him struggle in the back half?
Mazzara: Rick is under incredible pressure, and he’s got to try to keep his group together. That group has become a fantastic fighting force against walkers. Now the question is: To survive, do they need to become a fighting force against the Governor and the people of Woodbury? Is that a fight worth taking on? Everyone has different motivations and answers to that question. If you think about it, Rick attacked Woodbury. Woodbury was, to the people there and before that to Andrea (Laurie Holden), a peace-loving town that Rick and his group shot up. They’re clearly the bad guys in this fight to the people of Woodbury.
THR: Rick’s descending into madness, hearing Lori’s calls and seeing Shane. How will his demons plague his decision-making?
Mazzara: It’s more a question of can Rick keep it together at a point when this formidable foe in the Governor is coming for him? If he can’t keep it together, it puts pressure on the rest of the group as far as who is going to step up. Glenn (Steven Yeun) has an agenda of personal vengeance. Hershel (Scott Wilson) wants to protect these people. Carl (Chandler Riggs) has already been through a horrible tragedy and is really fearless. There’s a lot of dissent within the group as to how to handle this, and people respect and defer to Rick, but everyone will come to realize he’s not the same leader who got them through the winter.
THR: How will Andrea respond now that she knows the Governor’s true colors?
Mazzara: Andrea’s line becomes very complicated. She realizes that the Governor is who he is. There’s also a town of innocent people now at risk, and as the Governor focuses on his plan to seek revenge on Rick and Michonne, Andrea is forced into a leadership position in Woodbury to protect those people. And there’s also a compelling emotional story for Andrea with Rick’s group: In one way, they left her behind; in another way, she has her differences with Michonne. If and when Andrea finally meets with this group, all of that emotional baggage comes spilling out. That’s what I’m talking about when I say that we now push into very complicated character dynamics.
THR: After spending the winter together and caring for a near-death Andrea, does Michonne have any romantic feelings for Andrea? Will that be addressed?
Mazzara: I don’t know if there are romantic feelings. That’s something we discussed. It’s a complicated dynamic with how much these women do care for each other. That storyline plays out throughout the entire back half of the season. We have some pretty surprising scenes.
THR: How will the emotional and physical torture change Glenn and Maggie?
Mazzara: Maggie is dealing with being assaulted by the Governor, and she has to try to process that and not let it cloud her judgment when thinking about the greater good of the group’s survival. Glenn is very focused on vengeance for the Governor. The question remains: Is that for the good of the group or is that his own personal agenda? It becomes a complicated relationship between those two. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has now killed someone, and she’s becoming quite a proficient soldier without any remorse. That’s interesting to watch that character continue to develop into an efficient soldier.
THR: Michonne, Tyreese and company are all willing to join Rick. Will they need to prove themselves?
Mazzara: Rick has not done well by letting people into the group. With the exception of Axel, all those prisoners are now dead, and he lost his wife. Rick is tired of these deaths being on his hands. Meanwhile, how can a small band take on the Governor and the army he’s training? They need people on his side, and Rick doesn’t want anyone to join his group. It’s going to make newcomers like Michonne and Tyreese (Chad Coleman) work harder to try and gain access.
THR: Merle betrayed the Governor. How will he and Daryl get out of Woodbury, and where might they go, since Rick’s group isn’t on Team Merle?
Mazzara: Merle (Michael Rooker) and Daryl (Norman Reedus), if you remember, are survivalists. They can handle it out on their own. The question is: Does Daryl want to leave his new family behind? Does he want to fall back into that same pattern he had his whole life of being Merle’s little brother and taking orders from him and letting him bully him? Also, if Daryl chooses not to put up with that, how does that force Merle to change? If their dynamics aren’t the same as they’ve always been, what kind of personal growth is Merle going to see? We’re playing with everyone and pushing all the characters. This isn’t just a show about horror and pacing. This is about these people trying to survive under extreme pressure. We are really having fun examining everyone. Every single character changes and develops in these episodes.
THR: What was the driving force for you to leave the show?
Mazzara: It was really about moving forward. As we were looking at bringing the story forward into season four, it was clear that AMC and I were moving in different directions. We came to a mutual decision to part ways. It was a difficult decision, because we’re all proud of the work we’ve done together. It was for the best direction of the show, and I’m happy with work I’ve done and I’m excited to develop my own stuff. My vision for the show is on the screen.
THR: You’re overseeing post on the final season-three episodes. Will the process be any different considering your departure?
Mazzara: No. We’ve shot everything, and I’ve delivered my cuts to AMC. It’s a matter of finishing up what’s already conceived, approved, written, filmed and shot. That’s done. Everything about my decision to leave the show was about moving forward in season four.
THR: We’ve heard production was shut down a few times because of a lack of story. What happened?
Mazzara: I’ve never run out of story on any show.
THR: What’s next for you?
Mazzara: I have a couple things that I’m working on. It’s premature to talk about anything now, but I’m busy and I’ve got a lot on my plate and already have deadlines. I’m excited about that stuff. As for different genres, it will be surprising. I did the horror and sci-fi genre; that’s been new to me on The Walking Dead. I do have a lot of material in that space and I’m excited about a lot of stuff that’s coming up.
THR: Would you come back to the zombie/horror genre?
Mazzara: I think we need a zombie cop show, a zombie legal show or a zombie medical drama. Look at The Walking Dead — I don’t think you’re going to do a better zombie show than that.
The Walking Dead returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. Hit the comments with what you’re looking forward to seeing and what Mazzara should do next.
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